Common Core controversy

February 27th, 2013

Over at the Washington Post’sAnswer Sheet” blog, Valerie Strauss has just reprinted three different opinion pieces about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Though nearly all of the states and the District of Columbia have adopted the CCSS in English language arts and math, as states prepare to implement them in their schools, there has been a growing distrust of and resistance to such implementation. As Strauss notes, reasons for resistance include “questions about who was behind the initiative and whether they are better than previous [state] standards.” 

In the first post, Russ Pulliam, associate editors of The Indianapolis Star in Indiana, urges the state to pause implementation of the CCSS. This stance matches that of the state’s new superintendent, Glenda Ritz, who wants to set aside more time for the state to review the standards before implementing them. She does not, however, want to pull the state out of the CCSS—as some in the state legislature do. 

The second post, by Gerald Graff, professor of English and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former president of the Modern Language Association, responds to criticism about the nonfiction / fiction breakdown of the CCSS. (We’ve covered this controversy more here.) In defending the standards’ emphasis on informational texts, Graff writes:

[T]he standards’ new emphasis on “informational” texts can only benefit the study of literature, since it is “informational” writing, after all, that we ask students to produce when they write classroom essays about literature, and how to write such essays—literary analysis—has always profoundly confused students.

After all, students who study Homer’s “Iliad” are not asked to write another epic poem about the work, but rather an “informational” essay in which they are supposed to analyze the epic and make some kind of argument about it.  If you haven’t learned to write that kind of argumentative essay and you aren’t sure even what it looks like—and most American students are in that position—then it won’t matter much whether the text you write your bad essay about is fictional or factual.

In short, this debate about what books students should study is a distraction, since the problem for the vast majority of American students has always been not any particular type of book, but books and book discussion as such, regardless who gets to draw up the book list.

Finally, in the third post, education leader Diane Ravitch comes out against the Common Core Standards. She argues:

The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.

Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?

Read all of these posts about the Common Core State Standards at the Washington Post

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